Budget graphics card

A budget graphics card can improve gaming, but you need to know what to buy. Here our Helproom Editor explains how to buy a cheap graphics card. See also: Group test: what's the best graphics card?

QUESTION My grandson has a Dell Inspiron 530 with an ATI Radeon HD 2600 XT graphics card. This is fine for normal use, but the graphics card struggles with some of the games he plays, often producing blocky images. He is anxious to upgrade this component but, at 14, he can't afford to spend too much. Can you suggest some sub-£100 graphic cards that will solve his problem?

HELPROOM ANSWER Without knowing which games your grandson plays and the resolution of his monitor, it's difficult to say which card he should choose to enable smooth gaming framerates. However, with a £100 budget, this is certainly possible. Just how much of a boost he can get will depend not only on the graphics card, but on whether or not he's willing to also upgrade the PC's 300W PSU.

Assuming that he will keep the existing PSU, we'd recommend that he tries something like the AMD Radon HD 4650 or, at a push, and depending on what other power-hungry components might be installed in the system, a Radeon HD 4670.

You should be able to find a Radeon HD 4650 for less than £50, while the Radeon HD 4670 costs just over this amount. The latter should deliver around twice the performance of the Radeon HD 2600 XT graphics card currently installed in his PC, and also add some extra features.

A new PSU would certainly be required to push the system any further beyond this. Fortunately, a replacement model will be relatively easy to find, since the 530 uses a standard AT-X PSU. You will simply need to ensure that the PSU is rated up to 500W and has a six-pin PCI Express connector.

Replacing a PSU isn't difficult, but it does require more effort than swapping in a new graphics card because you will have to disconnect and reconnect several cables wired throughout the system. It's advisable that, for either upgrade, you or another adult are present to ensure he takes the necessary safety precautions. Instructions for replacing the PSU on the Inspiron 530 can be found at tinyurl.com/mn87nw.

Having replaced the PSU, he'll be able to fit a faster graphics card than the HD 4650 or 4670 we recommended earlier. We'd suggest looking to the Radeon HD 6850, which offers at least double the speed of the 4670, and can be found online for just under £100. Combined with the price of the PSU this will push him over budget, so it's important he decides whether he's likely to want more power later.

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